Metro Transit, chamber seek $9 million light rail study

By Steve Lackmeyer Published: October 1, 2003
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U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook is rejecting a request by Oklahoma City to seek federal authorization for $9 million toward planning of a light rail system.

The request, from the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and MetroTransit and endorsed by the Oklahoma Transportation Department, follows talks started earlier this year at a chamber retreat where light rail was listed as one of the city's next priority projects.

Gary Ridley, Transportation Department director, said Tuesday both Oklahoma City and Tulsa area leaders have been encouraged to apply for funding to study the potential for light rail systems.

"There have been pros and cons discussed would it work, would ridership go up and where would routes go? My feeling is in talking with both Tulsa and Oklahoma City that until we have a true study ... you won't know if it's feasible.

Istook, R-Warr Acres, could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but in a letter to the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce he repeated his opposition to light rail, saying he wants to focus his effort on funding the $350 million realignment of the Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway.

He warned the city would have to pay 55 percent of the construction and 100 percent of operating costs for a light rail.

"Oklahoma City is rated as the fourth-least congested large city in the country, Istook wrote. "Do we need expensive rail to relieve nonexistent congestion?

Promoters of the light rail system say they are looking at the city's future needs and how to continue momentum started with the Metropolitan Area Projects revival of downtown.

A copy of the Oklahoma City application obtained by The Oklahoman on Tuesday shows construction of a light-rail system linking downtown, Tinker Air Force Base, Edmond, Norman and northwest Oklahoma City would cost an estimated $452 million based on studies completed by the state a decade ago.

Dean Schirf, the chamber's vice president for government relations, said a committee looking at the city's public transit recently told Istook a light rail system is needed to serve Tinker, where parking is limited, to help increased enrollments at area CareerTechs, colleges and universities, and to aid major employers.

"This is a new day in Oklahoma City, Schirf said. "We have invested millions of dollars in public facilities in the central business district, both public and private, and more is planned. These are all new major destinations.

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